By Trevor Busch
The Horsefly Regional Emergency Spillway project sunk shovels in the ground Friday afternoon to commence Phase 1 expansion of the key flood mitigation project for southern Alberta.
Once complete, the Horsefly Spillway project will help address overland flooding concerns and stormwater runoff problems impacting several regions in southern Alberta which have sometimes seen extensive flooding in recent years.
Federal, provincial and municipal dignitaries gathered Friday for a groundbreaking ceremony near ongoing work on the project just north of Taber Lake.
“Flood irrigation is one thing, but uncontrolled flooded irrigation is not what we need. I remember the ditches and the shovels and the dams, but it was too big of a flood, too big of a challenge,” said Bow River MP Martin Shields, referencing regional flooding in 2018. “There’s people standing around in this crowd here who took leadership – they took real leadership – they went out and did the work to talk to all of the people in the area. All of the communities, the municipalities, all of those people who suffered from the challenge of that flooding event, and it took a lot of work. It took a lot of work to get to where we are today. So those people who got together, met in rooms, talked in hallways, talked in boardrooms, talked to all those people they needed to get together to come to a final decision. We need to get this built not only for the safety of people who live here, but for the economic value that irrigation brings to this part of the country.”
The spillway will provide a direct outlet from Taber Lake to the Oldman River, a route to avert overland flooding that hit the town in 2013 and more recently in 2018.
Phase 1 was estimated to cost $22.1 million, but inflationary impacts and other challenges have driven up costs to roughly $25 million. The three phases of the project were originally projected to cost $47.7 million.
“I know that it takes lots of hands, lots of people to make this happen, just like the projects that we are working on, Highway 3 twinning, the irrigation expansion, I know what it takes to get these things done,” said Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter.
“We have 70 per cent of Canada’s irrigation land right here in Alberta, southern Alberta. Seventy per cent of all Canada’s irrigation is right here. We have the start of an agri-food processing supercluster. The other day, McCain’s just announced $600 million expansion to their facility. This is all part of the big picture of what we’re trying to do down here in southern Alberta. And so I’m here to tell you that this project is part of the big picture.”
This is about being able to make this area some of the most coveted real estate in Alberta. Because of our heat units and our innovative farmers and ranchers that we have down here, this place is going to be a place where people can come to start a business and get good paying jobs and want to stay here and this is what it’s all about being part of southern Alberta.”
The project partners include the towns of Coaldale, Taber, and Bow Island, the Village of Barnwell, the City of Medicine Hat, the counties of Lethbridge, 40 Mile, and Cypress and the St. Mary River Irrigation District, while the M.D. of Taber serves as the managing partner.
“Local irrigation districts have been conveying storm drainage water in our communities since they’ve been built,” said Gary Franz, co-chair of the Southern Regional Stormwater Drainage Committee (SRSDC). “In the early 1900s, our communities have seen substantial growth in wealth and prosperity largely due to the confidence in water security. Irrigation has seen development in the safe delivery and storage of valuable water resources. And all this comes from a pioneering big vision of the system we enjoy today. This Horsefly Spillway plan began with regional municipalities working alongside local irrigation districts. We came together as a united group wanting to protect our communities from the potent destructive power of flood events.”
The MD of Taber is the lead municipality on the Horsefly project, and in December accepted a $23.3-million bid from Lethbridge’s deGraaf Construction on Phase 1.
“The region from Lethbridge to Medicine Hat has experienced frequent storms that have caused flooding in one area or the other of the region,” said MD of Taber Reeve Merrill Harris, who also serves as co-chair of the SRSDC. “I’ve seen water backed up against the St. Mary River irrigation main canal over half a mile over roads and in fields. Sometimes that is as deep as five feet of water in the fields. Farmers love to see rain come in the right amount at the right time. But when this type of flooding happens, they want to see that water off their land as quickly as possible. It has been a huge collaborative effort and a willingness to work together towards something that is in the best interest of everyone to get this project off the ground. We are working towards forming a formal governance structure for the drainage committee that will see this group stay together and finish all the projects that were outlined in the regional drainage study that was done in 2014.”
Phase 2 of the project would link Taber Lake to Horsefly Reservoir, and Phase 3 would extend the network to the SMRID main canal providing overflow control on the system that terminates in Seven Persons Creek.